Guerrilla Research into Rhizomatic Learning

guerrilla-marketing-gorilla-in-disguise (Source of image:

Martin Weller’s recent post about The Art of Guerrilla Research – so completely describes my personal experience of research, i.e. research undertaken by small independent groups who are up against larger forces (up against those larger funded research groups, who are usually associated with an institution, and also up against the recent focus on ‘big data’). With one or two exceptions, the research I have been involved in has never been funded and has been qualitative or mixed methods research.

Martin is going to be talking about this in a Masterclass workshop that he will be running for the ELESIG community in 10 days time. Wish I could be there, but because I am not funded, I cannot justify travelling for more than 6 hours for a 3 hour workshop 🙂  This is one of the hazards of Guerrilla Research. I hope the session will be recorded.

In a post by Russ Unger and Todd Zaki Warfel that Martin references, three characteristics of Guerilla Research are identified – rigor, time, and cost. Russ Unger and Todd Zaki Warfel suggest that Guerilla Research methods may involve less rigor and they take less time and cost less, but they still yield high-quality results. They say that there is probably just enough rigour. I think this is fair comment and in my own case, involved as I am in research into learner experience in open learning environments (principally MOOCs), unless I move fast, then my research is going to be out of date before I have even published it. So rigour has to be balanced with time. But I ‘own’ my time. I am an independent consultant who does research mostly for personal interest. So time for me means getting the research out there fast enough to still be of some consequence. Cost is usually not a factor for me, because I am not paid for it – unless I cost my time – which I don’t!

And this is the case in the Guerrilla Research that I am currently involved in – and that is research into the most recent open course that I have participated in – Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning – The Community is Curriculum  (Rhizo14) open course.

If you have been a participant in this course, however minimally, my colleagues Frances Bell, Mariana Funes and I would love to hear from you. Please have a look at the survey and have a go at responding. If you don’t like the first three questions, then I think Question 4 is accessible to everyone.

Here is the link to the survey –

And here is a link to my page about the research – 

And I would like to point you to another Guerrilla Research group which has sprung up out of the Rhizo14 course; the auto-ethnography group – who are collecting participants’ stories of their learning journeys in a Googledoc – see

Finally – looking up synonyms for Guerrilla, I find the following terms

  • freedom fighter,
  • underground fighter,
  • irregular soldier,
  • resistance fighter,
  • member of the resistance,
  • partisan

These resonate for me in relation to Rhizo14, but we’d love to hear about your experiences. Please let us know by completing both our survey and the survey of the auto-ethnography group.

And final thanks to Martin Weller for sparking off this post.

The Direction of MOOC Research

After 2 years of MOOC mania, the time has come for increasing the output of MOOC research. But what direction is that research taking – what direction should it take?

At the beginning of the month George Siemens convened a MOOC conference – (with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates) – which was billed as the MOOC conference of all MOOC conferences – pulling together many of the big names associated with MOOCs. And, by all accounts, it was a great conference – the conversations must have been fascinating.

Given that I couldn’t attend, I have been watching the Twitter stream quite closely and am following the blog posts that are emerging now that delegates have managed to return home after being stuck in Dallas in an unexpected ice storm .

From my reading of some of the follow up tweets and posts it seems that despite the bonhomie, there were some divisions between the delegates, although they may not have been openly discussed at the time.

I was alerted to this first by a tweet from Stephen Downes who wrote:

#MRI13 – seeing more and more the gulf between my own approach to MOOCs and those from the xMOOC perspective…

And then by a blog post from Ralf St.Clair  who has suggested that there were three groups in the conference delegates and these were not necessarily compatible:

The first, and the most fun, are the techno-utopians. These folks believe that the issues of MOOCs are fundamentally technical, and once we have a better [insert tool here e.g. marking algorithm] then we really will have a widespread and powerful democratisation of knowledge.

The second group are the Educational Idealists, who fret about structure and pedagogy and rigour. That’s the group I belong to, through frankly I’d rather be in the first group. They have all the good tunes.

The third group are the Administrative Puritans, focused on return on investment, costs, and monetisation so that MOOCs can pay their (considerable) way.

Bonnie Stewart  also noted that there were groups who did not appear to know how to talk to each other and wrote in her recent blog post

I think ‘what’s next?’ is working out the conversation IN the metaphorical van. Some who see MOOCs as learning focus on the pursuit of its ever-more-finely-honed measurement. Others are more inclined to dismiss measurement as irrelevant to the networked synthesis of ideas that forms the backbone of their approach to education. A hundred more do something in between. We don’t necessarily know how to talk to each other. It became evident around the Arlington bar tables last week that the chasms between practitioners’ varying versions of learning and knowledge are so deep some aren’t even really aware that the rest of us are IN the van.

Then there have been a couple of blog posts from Martin Weller and Martin Hawksey that suggest that the emphasis on big data research might not be exactly what is needed  – It was easy to forget you were talking about learners, and not sales of baked beans. (Martin Weller).

These posts were interesting given that my own research into MOOCs has always been on the learner experience. Whilst there is a lot to learn from big data, we also need to keep the focus on the learner and try and understand the changes that are happening in learners themselves in these new open online learning environments. My experience is that it is difficult to square this interest in the unique individual experience with the massive number of MOOC participants.

There have also been interesting discussions about the role of theory in relation to MOOC research and the suggestion that we are moving from theory-led to evidence-based research – i.e. post-theory  ( See Martin Weller’s blog post and this post by Mike Caulfield). My own thinking is that perhaps we need more theory – not less – and in particular we need more discussion around the proposed theory of connectivism, which only a few researchers have, to date, been prepared to engage in.

Post conference reflections, tweets and blog posts are still coming in and the discussion remains very interesting.  Here are some of the posts that have caught my eye

Bodong Chen – Top Links from the MOOC Research Conference Twitter Backchannel (#MRI13)

Matt Crosslin – Give Me an M! Give Me a C! Blah Blah Blah To All This Theory

Keith Devlin – The MOOC Express – Less Hype, More Hope

Lori Breslow, Donald Clark, Professor Asha Kanwar, Stephen Downes – EduDebate: What Future for MOOCs

Michael Feldstein – Changing the Narrative

I picked up most of these from the conference Twitter stream  (#mri13 )

Open Academic Practice – How open are you?

This was a question that I asked FSLT13 participants this week in a synchronous online session that I was invited to run. I suggested that we place ourselves on this grid, according to whether we consider ourselves a lone academic or an open scholar and whether we make limited use of digital technologies or extensive use of them. This was the response.
how open are you 2
Given that FSLT13 is principally for people new to learning and teaching in Higher Education, but also for anyone who has an interest in learning and teaching in HE, the outcome of this activity is not really surprising. Whilst the majority of people in the session felt they are making good use of digital technologies, not everyone feels they are working as open academics, and as one participant pointed out the notion of ‘openness’ can be context dependent.

The invitation to run this live session was good for me. It forced me to consider how open I am. I decided to try and depict this graphically by using characteristics which have been discussed by Terry Anderson and Martin Weller (see references at the end of this post), scoring myself out of 10 for each characteristic and generating a radar graph. This was the result.
Characteristics of an open academic
It is fairly obvious from this that there is room for more openness in my academic practice, but that would mean increased contribution of OERs and shared outputs, increasing my online network and mixing personal and professional outputs. To be honest, I am hesitant to do any of these things. I can just about keep up with the online network I have, my outputs would have to be of significantly higher quality for me to feel confident in pushing them out there, and there’s no way I want to share aspects of my personal life with people I don’t know. So that leaves me with being more adventurous with new technologies, which I could/should do, and maybe that would increase my confidence with sharing outputs and thus increase my online network.

Given how many years’ experience I have had of teaching and learning on and offline, it is easy to see how becoming an open academic can be daunting. I have in the past discussed the ‘tyranny’ of openness  and the fact that regarding openness as some sort of moral imperative can be unhelpful.

I haven’t changed my views on this, as I don’t think we can force people to be ‘open’. But I do think it is worth reflecting on Terry Anderson’s comments that

‘…successful educators share most thoroughly with the most students’

‘…expertise is non-rivalrous … it can be given without being given away’

In other words openness can be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat.

But ultimately openness is an individual dimension as Carmen Tschofen and I discussed in our paper – Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual experience (see reference below).

These were the ideas (and there were more), that we discussed in the live session, a recording of which has been posted on `YouTube’. I will now try and address my reluctance to share outputs by posting this here  – and hope I don’t live to regret it 🙂

It took me a while to relax (I still find it difficult to talk to an invisible audience), but once I got going, I enjoyed it. However, despite all my preparation and determination to be sufficiently organised to be able to follow the chat at the same time as speaking, I still didn’t manage it. So apologies to those whose questions went unanswered.

Finally I was really interested to see this response to aspects of the session from Steffi in her Week 1 reflection

The rewards of open practice come in reciprocity, alternative perspectives and opportunities for dialogue. Thanks to FSLT13 participants and team for this opportunity.


Anderson, T.  (2009).  Association for Learning Technology Conference, keynote presentation.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar. How technology is transforming academic practice

Tschofen, C. & Mackness, J. (2011). Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

The MOOC Bandwagon

As others have noted – most recently Bon Stewart in her Inside Higher Ed article  – everyone seems to be jumping on the MOOC bandwagon at an alarming rate.

This week the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee, UK ) has jumped on it with a webinar entitled

What is a MOOC – JISC Webinar 11-07-12

Four speakers were invited. Here is the programme and here is the recording
12.00 Definitions of MOOCs (Martin Weller)
12.10 Tutor perspective (Jonathan Worth)
12.20 Learner perspective (Lou McGill)
12.30 MOOCs and online learning (David White)
12.40 Q&A

Martin Weller presented a useful overview of the history of MOOCs and some thoughtful ideas about the benefits of MOOCs and the associated concerns in relation to Higher Education.

Jonathan Worth told us about his ‘open’ photography course in which he uses Twitter with his students to reach a wider network of experts. I was not sure that this is a MOOC in my terms, although it was clearly an ‘open’ course. It got me thinking about whether using different technologies necessarily means that the course is distributed across different platforms, which according to Stephen Downes is a necessary condition for a MOOC (at least a connectivist MOOC).

Lou McGill is a staunch advocate of the DS106 MOOC, in which she has been a learner and she shared her experience of authentic learning in this MOOC. She is also working with Strathclyde University to research learner experiences in the Change11 MOOC.  I was a participant in Change 11 and was also interviewed by Lou McGill for the research – an interesting experience in which I realized that my understanding of ‘What is a MOOC?’ stems from CCK08, but many, many people who are discussing MOOCs today were not in that MOOC and appear to be coming from a different place.

Dave White pondered on why the Stanford MOOC attracted such large numbers and thought it must be to do with their credibility and brand name. He raised the question of the role of the teacher/facilitator in MOOCs and suggested that this is important if MOOCs are to be inclusive. This is a topic we have been discussing in our review the FSLT MOOC.

These are my reflections as a result of attending this webinar.

There are still plenty of people who have technical difficulties accessing a site like Blackboard Collaborate. We cannot make assumptions that people have the technical equipment or skills to engage in MOOCs.

Whilst MOOCs might be the new buzzword in Higher Education, there are still plenty of people who have never heard of them, only just heard of them, have no idea what they are, or who completely misunderstand what they are.

The original connectivist principles of MOOCs are getting lost in the plethora of offerings which now bear the name MOOC, e.g.

  • CCK08 (the original MOOC) was an experiment in getting people to think about learning differently;
  • the idea was that learners could be in control of their learning and meet in learning spaces of their own choice  according to the principle of distributed environments (see slide 33 in this presentation by Stephen Downes) and see his LMS vs PLE video
  • learners would experience learning in the massiveness of the network – so they would not be able to rely on the tutor/convener/facilitator – instead they would need to make connections and seek peer support. In the light of this our understanding of the relationship between teacher and learner would need to change
  • the purpose of learning in a MOOC would be to create knowledge and artefacts through exposure to a diverse network, rather than have it centrally provided. This would, through the aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward of resources shared and created, enrich the learning experience
  • MOOCs were never intended – despite the name – to be ‘courses’ ( see this blog post  and this response from Stephen Downes ); they were intended to be a challenge to the traditional notion of a course – in the form of learning events. If they don’t do this then they are ‘open courses’ (with some of the attributes of MOOCs), but not MOOCs in the terms of how they were originally conceived.

This is my understanding of what is meant by MOOC – now renamed (in the light of different interpretations) a connectivist MOOC. Many of the most recent courses which have been called MOOCs are not MOOCs in these terms, but fall somewhere along the continuum from connectivist MOOCs with these principles, to the Stanford AI type of centrally located MOOC (see Stephen Downes’ LMS vs PLE video for an explanation)

It is evident that there is room for all these different types of MOOCs or ‘open courses’.   But I hope we will not lose the principles of the CCK08 type of connectivist MOOC, as it is the connectivist MOOCs that are really pushing against the boundaries and challenging traditional ways of thinking about teaching and learning, which is of course why many people feel uncomfortable with them and why we are now seeing efforts to somehow tie them down and bring them into line.

Scholarship and the ‘Tyranny’ of Openness

There have been some great comments by George Veletsianos, Mark McGuire and Fred Garnett on my blog post, which asked the question ‘What is a Scholar’ –  prompted by George’s presentation to ChangeMooc.

In George’s comment he asks

Are we are attempting to impose our values (of openness, sharing, online learning as the future of education, etc) without a critical examination of what that means for practice and for individuals who are part of social organizations?

This is a very timely question. There has been a lot of discussion on the web over the past 12 months or so about what we mean by openness. According to Martin Weller it is a ‘state of mind’. I agree…..

….but whose mind? As Carmen Tschofen and I discussed in our paper – Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience  – openness means different things to different people – ‘learners may vary greatly in their desire for and interpretation of connectivity, autonomy, openness, and diversity

On p.137 we write

This inner state of openness offers a significantly expanded perspective from the much more externalized “sharing” definition of openness and the “no barriers” definition currently articulated in connectivism. It leaves room for the speculation, for example, that legitimate peripheral participants may be experiencing “openness” in relation to connective learning by being attentive in a mindful and non-judgmental way.

An understanding of psychological openness and its relationship to connectivist principles and process also introduces a potential connection between creativity and connective learning. The personality trait of openness to experience is linked to curiosity, exploration, creativity, and unusual ideas. These elements may be significant in gaining insight into MOOC “early adopters” and in understanding the challenges and rewards of promoting and conducting such unusual learning ventures. By the same token, learners who express discomfort in learning networked environments, calling, for example, for more structure, may be closer to the “more cautious” end of the openness spectrum, with greater preference toward the familiar, including learning conventions and traditions. Questions remain as to how connective learning can best accommodate learners throughout this spectrum.

So I agree with George that we need to critically reflect on what we mean by ‘openness’ and how this might affect our expectations of scholars and influence their scholarship. And I think I understand where he is coming from when he writes ‘I am worried about imposing a single worldview that we view as “correct” on others. Freire talks about the oppressed becoming oppressors, and I find that without an uncritical examination of our practice we might be heading towards that direction.’

I also understand where Mark is coming from when he writes about the dangers of becoming institutionalized

‘in the process of working within an institution, we become institutionalized. We internalize the values, assumptions, and practices of the institution of higher education as it is currently constructed, and we take on the mission statements, strategic plans, and objectives of the organization that pays our salary.’

‘becoming institutionalized is like becoming acclimatized or acculturated — it is an induction into a particular set of habits, histories and beliefs that we come to accept as natural and right. If we wish to develop new ways of organizing our labour and our learning using more open networks, in keeping with shifts elsewhere in contemporary society, we must be prepared to examine and critique our institutions and our place within them.’

It seems to me that both Mark and George are making a strong case for critical reflection on and critical examination of the meaning of openness. Is openness (like participation) becoming a ‘tyranny’ that we are all just drifting into? Or is openness essential to the future of education and scholars?

I’ll be interested to hear what Frances Bell has to say about this when she talks to #fslt12 MOOC on Wednesday 30 May

Frances Bell, “The role of openness by academics in the transformation of their teaching and learning practices.” Wednesday 30 May 2012, 1500 BST

I share….. therefore I am….

The title of this post is a quote from Sherry Turkle’s presentation on YouTube – Alone Together –

But I could equally have given this post the title – People lose their identities in cybermush – which is an idea expressed (if not in those exact words) by Jaron Lanier in a conversation that he has with Aleks Krotoski about the failure of Web 2.0 – .

Turkle and Lanier’s work has come into focus for me this week for two reasons.

First – they both focus on the same concerns that I have been discussing with Carmen Tschofen for quite a few months now – i.e. what is the impact of connectivity on the individual. The paper we are writing is almost ready for submission now.

Second – they were pointed to by Martin Weller as part of his work in Week 3 of ChangeMooc –

Martin Weller has been sharing his work on Digital Scholarship and in particular  ‘open scholarship’. In the changemooc website he writes…..

Although I have tried to avoid some of the more rabid evangelism one often encounters with new technology, it is fair to say that in general I regard digital scholarship as an improving force in scholarly practice, and that it provides ways of working that are often an improvement on existing methods. But it is not without its drawbacks and areas of concerns. In this section we will look at some of these, and consider which ones have the greatest significance and validity.

…. and asks

  • It is worth considering the nature and tone of some of these criticisms (criticism of Digital Scholarship), often based on anecdotes and lacking in evidence. Is this simply a case of the evidence not existing yet, or does it reveal something about the nature of the discussion?
  • Of the criticisms listed which ones do you feel are most significant?
  • Beyond the ones I’ve listed do you think there are other areas of serious concern which should give us pause to reflect in the adoption of digital scholarship approaches?

Weller – in Chapter 13 of his book – summarises these criticisms as follows:

  • Moving beyond the superficial – many successful Web 2.0 services essentially allow a very simple function, for example, sharing a photograph. Can we use the same techniques for deeper, more difficult tasks?
  • Understanding quality – this is not just about maintaining current quality, as this may not be appropriate in many forms, but appreciating when different levels of quality can be used.
  • Managing online identity – there is a tension for scholars and their students in gaining the benefits of a social network, which thrives on personal interactions, while not compromising professional identity.
  • Ownership of scholarly functions – there is also a dilemma regarding how much of scholarly discourse and activity we give over to cloud computing services and whether the benefits in terms of widespread use and (often) superior tools outweigh the potential risks.

In the work that I am doing with Carmen, we focus on issues relating to identity, but identity in relation to the learning of individuals rather than professional identity  – although there is clearly some overlap.  What concerns us is that connectivity, as Sherry Turkle states, can become addictive, can make us too busy to think and can lead to simply sharing what is easy to share (superficiality), rather than ideas that are more deeply considered.  Turkle tells us that ‘solitude energises and restores’ and that ‘alone’ is OK and is not the same thing as lonely. These are some of the ideas that Carmen and I have been discussing in more depth and have included in our paper.

I can’t speak for Carmen, but in terms of Digital Scholarship – I have been having difficulties in relation to this work I have been doing with Carmen. I work really slowly. It takes me a long time to read, digest ideas and sort out my thinking. None of it ever comes easily. So, I have been working on these ideas since February of this year.  Originally our discussions were about autonomy, but gradually our thinking shifted to a deeper levels of enquiry and understanding and after one submission of the paper which was returned, our focus shifted again. Clarifying and articulating the essence of our ideas and concerns has been a lengthy process. In the meantime, because we both follow conversations on the Web, we know that if we don’t get a move on our ideas will be out of date before we can publish – the conversation will have moved on. So there is this tension between seeking depth and understanding, and keeping up. Of course I appreciate that some (maybe many) people are clever enough to get to depth and understanding quickly, but I am not one of them 🙂

And then there has been the whole question of whether we should go down the publication/peer review route. Both of us work independently so we are not subject to the pressures to publish research exacted by many institutions, but having spent quite a few months on this work, it seems like a lot of effort if it is not going to be read by anyone. We could publish on our blogs, but I know that I don’t get what I would consider enough visitors to my blog (certainly not the daily hundreds that Martin Weller talked about), and blogs are not cited as much as papers. So the best option for me is an open peer reviewed journal – but even with these there is a delay between submission and publication. Whilst this might not be as great as for traditional journals it might still be too slow to keep up with current web conversations.

So for me there is a great tension between avoiding the superficial, seeking quality and depth, and the demands of open digital scholarship.

And of course I am aware that even after all this our paper may not be accepted 🙂

#PLENK2010 Research, technology and networks

The guest speaker for the second week of the PLENK course has been Martin Weller – what a treat!  The link to the recording of his Elluminate presentation is here

Basically – his talk was about how depressed he is that research is not ‘keeping up with the times’ in terms of advances in technology and networked learning. I am a new researcher – but I can so completely relate to this.

So what did he say? These are the key points as I interpreted him –

  • researchers are not making full use of the new technologies available to them
  • they are risk averse and work in ‘traditional’ mode
  • they work in small personal contexts, often with the same groups of people and do not make use of network possibilities
  • they don’t like the spontaneity of blogs
  • they are conservative and cautious

Why are they like this? Because they may not have tenure and therefore have to ‘fit in’ with University requirements. If you want tenure you are encouraged to be traditional and are therefore less likely to be innovative or take risks. Research is about ‘control’ – particularly for scientists seeking predictive models, whereas the very nature of working in Web 2 is the exact opposite. We don’t know what will happen in Web 2.0. It is unpredictable.

Martin then went on to discuss the changing nature of research as evidenced by the number of people who are publishing in blogs , experimenting as they go along, turning to people in the network for peer review.  However, there are difficulties with this as I have already posted here following a discussion with Matthias.

What I found particularly interesting in Martin’s presentation is that it was directly relevant to how I have recently been working. I am a new researcher. My first two papers were both published following the traditional pattern.

1. K. Guldberg, J. Mackness (2009) Foundations of communities of practice: enablers and barriers to participation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning

2. Rhona Sharpe, Jenny Mackness (2010)Evaluating the development of a community of e-learning researchers: from short-term funding to sustainability International Journal of Web Based Communities 6 (2) p. 148

These two papers are in closed journals. The second has received one expression of interest via email. The first has received about 15 expressions of interest via email.

Following participation in CCK08 John Mak, Roy Williams and I published two papers in the open environment of the Networked Learning Conference. We had also published drafts of the papers in the CCK09 Moodle site before submitting them to the Networked Learning Conference. This felt much more like an ‘open’ process.

Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC John Mak, Sui, Fai, Roy Williams, Jenny Mackness (2010) Networked Learning Conference, Aarlborg p. 275

The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC Jenny Mackness, John Mak, Sui, Fai, Roy Williams (2010)Networked Learning Conference, Aarlborg p. 266-274

Presenting these papers at the Networked Learning conference was disappointing from my perspective, but George and Stephen invited us to present the Ideals and Reality paper again in an Elluminate session and that was much more rewarding. We were able to ‘talk’ to more people and this made the research seem more worthwhile.

Recently, I have gone one step further with Matthias Melcher, in working for many weeks/months on a paper on e-resonance and simply publishing it here on this blog – but the process we worked through was not open to all.

The points that have arisen for me in all this are:

1. If we want research to be open there are two stages to consider – the actual researching and then the publishing.
2. Being ‘open’ at the researching stage might invalidate the research. There are difficulties associated with confidentiality and ‘ownership’ of ideas and writing.
3. Open publishing also brings its difficulties. How can the work be measured/peer reviewed?

I suppose all this brings in to question what we understand by research. There was discussion in the Elluminate ‘chat’ about the boundaries between learning and research becoming blurred and Stephen posted that ‘Learning = Research’. I thought at the time that this depends on how you define research. Who is it for? What is it for? How will the ‘network’ influence research and will research be able to influence the network?

I really enjoyed Martin’s talk, but I was left wondering whether we had really got to grips with how research will be influenced by networked learning and Web 2.0.  My experience is that there are still an awful lot of people in HE (where a lot of research currently happens) who are working in institutions with high research ratings, with outstanding publications records, but who are not connected on the Web in the sense that we have been talking about. This indicates that good research has been and continues to be published without the Web or being networked. I think we need to think more/be more explicit about what might be lost by giving up this ‘traditional’ system and more explicit about what we can gain by being more ‘innovative’.

I thought Martin could perhaps have been more explicit about why his really good presentation was relevant to a PLENK course.